Celebrating the end of the Cold War, Soviet and American historians who study the beginning of the Cold War climbed out of their intellectual trenches yesterday and agreed that the past would never be the same.
At a news conference concluding meetings held here and in Moscow, the Soviet historians made clear that historiography in the era of glasnost would be decidedly unkind to a figure who already has an unsavory reputation in American versions of events, Joseph Stalin. It was he, many Americans have long asserted -- and now some Soviet historians agree -- who deserves most of the blame for starting the Cold War.
But even in their revisionist mood, many of the Soviet scholars resisted efforts to blame the Cold War entirely on the Soviet Union. "I'm sick and tired of speaking about Stalin," Konstantin Pleshakov, a Soviet historian, blurted out at one point. The Cold War, he insisted, "was not one hand clapping."
Historians from both countries agreed that they would never settle their remaining differences until the Soviet government opened its archives from the period.
The sessions, sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace, were remarkable not because they showed Soviet historians busily rewriting history to suit a new regime -- that has happened before -- but because the Soviet scholars were groping with their American colleagues to produce a fair account of the events that led to 45 years of confrontation between the two countries.
"It's not just one politicization being switched to another," insisted Vladimir Pechatnov of the Institute of the USA and Canada. "After 60 years, it's the first time we are reasonably free to discuss our own side."
Allen Weinstein, a professor of history at Boston University who chaired the American delegation, captured the spirit of the meetings held in Moscow last month and in Washington this week by quoting a Russian acquaintance. "It's easy to talk about the future and the present," the Russian said, "but the past keeps changing every day."
The debate over the origins of the Cold War was one of the most politically contentious battlefields of history even before the Soviets became free agents. There were, in fact, two Cold Wars, said John Lewis Gaddis, a historian at Ohio University, the one we all know about, and the "one among historians."
For nearly three decades, orthodox historians and American "revisionists" have argued whether the United States or the Soviet Union was more responsible for starting the Cold War. The orthodox view saw Soviet expansionism as the culprit and held that President Harry S. Truman was only reacting to Stalin's moves against Central Europe. That view was well-represented on the American delegation, notably by Adam Ulam, the director of the Russian research center at Harvard who described himself as "an unrepentant fundamentalist."
The American revisionists came into their own in the 1960s, when the Vietnam War bred a deep skepticism about everything the American government had ever undertaken. The revisionists argued that the United States misunderstood Soviet intentions, missed opportunities for making peace and generally threw its weight around in the world in a way that scared Stalin.
The revisionists had two powerful effects on the Soviets, according to the Soviet historians. Before Gorbachev, the Soviets welcomed American criticism of American policy. "We grew up reading revisionist stuff," said Sergei M. Plekhanov, a historian at the Institute of the USA and Canada.
But now, the American revisionists are important for a different reason. "The emergence of the revisionist school was a powerful example for us," Plekhanov said. "What the revisionists did was challenge the official interpretation." That is what the Soviet historians are doing now.
Soviet revisionists, as Marx might put it, turn the American revisionists on their heads. Challenging the official Soviet view means expressing more sympathy for the United States and an antipathy to Stalin.
"In the past, everything done by the United States was bad," said Pleshakov, a fellow at the USA-Canada Institute. Now, he said, "everthing which was done by the Soviet Union was bad."
Vladislav Zubok, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, said the trend among many Soviet historians is to join the anti-Stalin wave.
But Pleshakov, Zubok and other Soviet historians expressed impatience with American pleasure at blaming Stalin. Zubok, for example, said that Americans were guilty of overestimating the postwar Soviet threat. Plekhanov charged that "both sides made a cardinal mistake in assuming excessive responsibility in world affairs" and asked his American colleagues for "more self-searching and more self-criticism."
This was too much for Francis Fukuyama, a former State Department official whose essay positing "The End of History" caused a major stir last year. Fukuyama attacked Plekhanov's efforts to achieve "a completely symmetrical apportionment of blame." He added: "You are not yet in a position to lecture Americans for not being sufficiently self-critical."
Perhaps. But the Soviet historians are getting there, quickly.